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Limits of free speech

December 4, 2019

In 1969, 13-year-old Tinker along with two others, decided to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. School administrators ordered the students to end the protest, but Tinker refused and sued under the First Amendment. The conflict made its way to the Supreme Court where the justices ruled in favor of Tinker, saying students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Despite the protections given by Tinker v. Des Moines, the fight for students’ First Amendment rights continues today. According to the  Student Press Law Center (SPLC), the Supreme Court has since chipped away at these rights through rulings such as Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier of 1988, in which the court ruled to allow school administration to censor student media content if the media is not entirely student run.

In response to rulings such as Hazelwood, the New Voices movement was born, advocating for its own legislation that protects students’ free press rights. According to SPLC, New Voices laws have been passed in 14 states.

According to Mark Goodman, a journalism professor at Kent State University and Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, New Voices legislation has no negative impact on schools.

“High school education is just as healthy and vibrant in Iowa (with New Voices) as it is anywhere else in the country,” Goodman said. “The fact that the students have strong free press protections because of their state law has not made it any harder for schools to do their job educating.”

The Minnesota New Voices bill is active in both the state House and Senate.

Although many student newspapers struggle with censorship, publications often find themselves in conflict with constituent communities over their coverage, such as Northwestern University this past month.

After covering former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Nov. 5 visit to the University and accompanied protests, The Daily Northwestern took down its own coverage of the event in response to complaints. Professional media picked up the story and took sides over the paper’s self-censorship.

Joey Safchik, a junior at Northwestern University and the news director of the University’s broadcast station, said the station decided to leave its video coverage of the event up in contrast to the Daily’s decision and despite take-down requests.

“We all agreed that what we did is by no means malpractice and was journalism. This was a protest, they were in a public space, they were adults protesting and we were comfortable with our coverage,” Safchik said. “We continued owning and publishing the story for weeks after because we think that informing the campus is what we are here to do.”

If it weren’t for journalism in its many different forms, we would have to rely only on those people in power and what they tell us. Journalism, in its best incarnation, is the independent telling of the truth and the relaying of facts that we as community members can base our decisions on.”

— Mark Goodman, professor at Kent State University

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